I want to ask you to recall for a moment the greatest tragedies or distresses in your life. We have all had bad experiences, even some that may have endured for a long time; some episodes that may have changed the direction of your life.
I can imagine that you may have cried out to God in your distress, “Why, Lord?” or “Why me, Lord?” Or why does God allow suffering?
Today’s readings touch on that human reality. Suffering does happen. What do we do with it?
The Book of Job is perhaps one of the greatest pieces of literature in the history of civilization. Everyone should read the Book of Job. Job had been prosperous and well off. Job was known for his faithfulness to God. In the story, the Devil told God that Job was only faithful because he was comfortable and well off, but that he would turn and curse God if he were to suffer. That background sets up the story of Job’s suffering.
Job did question God, but he never denounced God. Job was distraught in his suffering and was challenged to renounce or rebuke God for his suffering. Job remained faithful to God despite everything. God never speaks to Job, except at the end of the Book.
The Lord addressed Job out of the storm and said:
Who shut within doors the sea,
when it burst forth from the womb;
when I made the clouds its garment
and thick darkness its swaddling bands?
When I set limits for it
and fastened the bar of its door,
and said: Thus far shall you come but no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stilled!
No man can know the mind of God. Before creation all was chaos. But God was always in control. God himself brought order out of chaos, even creating the sea, and setting its limits. Man will never know how.
When God created man and woman, he gave everything to them in the Garden. He set limits for them, like telling them they could have anything they wanted, but not to eat of one specific tree. Eve explained to the “snake”, the devil,
… it is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, or else you will die.’”
But the snake said to the woman: “You certainly will not die! God knows well that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, who know good and evil.”
One of the basic temptations in Original Sin is our desire to be as smart as God and to know everything He knows. That is the basis of our pride. One of the most important criteria of our faith is that there are things we cannot know that only God knows. God tells Job only God was present when the sea was created. Who else but God knows, or has power over the sea?
In the Gospel we find a curious moment in the relationship between Jesus and his disciples. Remember, they were fishermen. They knew this sea, the Sea of Galilee, and had been in many of its storms. But apparently this storm was much worse than anything they had known, and they were terrified. The boat was taking on water. The boat was sinking. Jesus had been preaching parables all day. He was exhausted.
A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up.
Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion.
The disciples could see themselves in a desperate life or death situation, out of their control, not unlike Job.
They woke him and said to him,
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
He woke up,
rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!”
The wind ceased and there was great calm.
Then he asked them, “Why are you terrified?
Here was God, controlling the sea and the weather, like in the Creation. Only God could do this. Man did not know how.
The lesson is, as in Job, bad things happen, we know not why. But for those who believe in God and his promises of eternal life, “Why are you terrified?”
We are constantly challenged to remain steadfast in our love of God and our faith in God, even through overwhelming challenges and dangers. We will all face “end of life” situations, either with loved ones or with ourselves. We must learn to be steadfast in our faith.
Suffering happens. There is a great conflict in the universe between good and evil, the world and the spirit. Otherwise, Jesus would not have died on the Cross. Jesus accepted the suffering on our behalf, to save us. In suffering we learn patience, … love and faith, despite all else.
Today, I think of fathers. Fathers will have moments of great fear and distress. Fathers will experience the fear and distress of their spouses and children. Fathers will be called upon to say to their families, “Why are you terrified?” Even when the fathers are themselves terrified, they are still responsible for being steadfast examples of strength in Faith and Hope in God, and for holding their families together against all odds. Perhaps there are financial woes, or diseases, or problems with children. Families will be tested. Fathers are given to us to be strong and faithful anchors for us.
Today, on Father’s Day, we give thanks for our fathers who guided us from infancy to adulthood. Perhaps we disrespected them from time to time, although we always love them. Our fathers often taught us our faith and fidelity to God and to one another. God gave us fathers as examples of his love for each of us. We pray for blessings upon our fathers, living and dead.
The story of the storm and Jesus in the boat with is disciples is also a reminder to us. The Church is like a boat, always being tossed of the turmoil of world, as in a chaotic sea. Jesus is in the Church. Jesus is in the boat with us. Stay in the boat. We will observe great turmoil surrounding the Church. Never leave the Sacraments. Stay in the boat.